Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Story And Story Conflict...

A story can never be found to be gripping if it does not have any conflict.  Commonly, when we mention conflict, those not initiated into the creative writing craft will immediately jump to political conflict, that which deals with politicians and their vices, but it will be found that this kind of politics is nothing but a mere element in the broader story conflict spectrum.
To isolate the concept, conflict is a child of the tension between two opposing elements.  The tension can be visible to an onlooker, as a physical fight, or it can be invincible and only exist internally - in the mind and emotions of the subject. In this case for this internal conflict, only an in-depth analysis of the mind and emotions of the subject will reveal it, and of course this lies in the realms of psychoanalysis, or crazy writers.
This also pulls us to the fact that the story teller must be widely read on any subject, or if not well read, must be a good observer, as these tidbits of knowledge will be found to add depth to their stories – there is nothing as boring as a story that only scraps the surface… no matter how small the organ, a highly skilful usage of it will bring total satisfaction…
A story without conflict will immediately begin to sound like a simple explanation, and will immediately lose the attention of the reader, or if it is in theatre or film, the audience.  Where three people are trying to tell their stories at the same time, as it usually happens in bars when we have had a beer or two, we will always focus on the story which tells us why John kept failing to get to point B from point A, and not the one which tells us how John slid from point A to point B without any mis-adventure.  The story teller who keeps failing to grasp this simple fact will always take a long time to attract readers or publishers to their work. 
Of course there are some who say they do not writer for readers, but only write for themselves – but most will be found to be lying on this, and will be secretly seeking for audiences and bugging their mirrors to have taste of their work..
To give an example of the power of conflict, and to use an example outside creative writing, even when one watches a bottle juggler performing their act, if one looks at this act closely, we will discover that even if one is drawn to the sheer beauty of observing the act of the flying bottles and the skilful catching, one is also drawn by conflict to the performance, but the conflict is within the perceiver – one side of you tells you the bottles are going to fall and break, and the other is disagreeing and saying no they are not going to fall – and so we have the enthralled audience!
We are also aware that aesthetics hold a vital position in story telling – brilliantly assembled sentences, descriptions of scenery and people, descriptions of the condition of nature, humankind, and also the creations of humans – the societies, the machines and so forth – but the thread holding this quilt together is the conflict that is the subject of the composer.
It seems that people are so much drawn to conflict that, even in peacetime, they create it as a pastime for their leisure time so that they can always get their adrenaline fix.
We have created all sorts of sports whose epicentre is conflict between individuals or  teams. Imagine if boxers were two countries at war with each other, or even in the mind sports, chess and the like. But we are happy that we seem now to want to contain our aggression within soccer stadiums or boxing rings or any other sports venue, and also contain it between teams with referees watching over them.  Of course we have these incidents in sports stadia where the audience becomes so much infected by the conflict between their teams that they take the conflict to themselves within the terraces and slug it out between each other.
The sports are also a good example where conflict is nicely wrapped up in excellent aesthetics, the beautiful uniforms of the sports people, the green lawns, the adverts, the beautiful cars in car racing, the flags, the national anthems if its national teams playing, and even the beautiful manoeuvres or actions of the sports people themselves.  Of course now and then we have this crazy person leaping over the barricades in football stadia separating the people from the players and running across the turf  amidst the players in protest or celebration and now bringing a new dimension to sports conflict.  An action like this can be a beautiful distraction to sports lovers, but the wary story tellers will always try to lop off a trend like that if it starts protruding from their story construction – imagine a shooting star doing a wobble streak across the sky…But sometimes this is an out of the world fascination that we would like to explore to the fullest before we discard it.
Of course there is the belief that there is no formulae to creative writing.  This also holds true too, as creative writing is an eternal process of experimentation, just take the story where it wants to go as long as you can burrow through that tunnel to the sun on the other side.  But whatever, do not forget what got Hyena into trouble in the animal Kingdom, or how Janet lost her boyfriend to her best friend….

Friday, February 17, 2012

Can A Writer Write On An Empty Stomach?

It has often been said that the best works of art have been produced by people under straitened economical conditions.
I would also like to add that this category of people, the poverty stricken ones to use a less polite term, are also victims of dire mental anguish – they are in a position that has pushed them against a corner with no escape, and the only way they can escape it is by giving birth to the beauty inside them – a time tested way of opening any door of opportunity that lies before you.  Society is a sucker for all things beautiful.
But what is it with art and poverty?  If we were to separate the two, art is dealing with aesthetics and the appreciation of beauty, and poverty is ‘the state of being extremely poor.’
Poverty can also be lack in any required amounts.
Can we equate art to religion?  Can we be justified in saying that it can be also perceived as a system of worship, for surely, if the question can be asked, don’t artists worship their calling?
That said, we will begin to notice that, on a profound level, art is a spiritual condition, and we do not need to tell one that most spiritual discoveries, just like character, are discovered when an individual is under pressure. 
The pressure can be internal (within the mind, body and soul), or external – societal etc.  And what it burns down to is that, even if the pressure is external, outside the body, if more pressure is added on to this pressure, the mind internalises it, and it now becomes internal as well as being external.  And once the pressure is internal, then comes a change in the constitution of the psyche, which will lead to the birth of the new person with a new resolve, and on the negative side, the mind can go haywire.
I am not a psychiatrist, but years of writing and analysing characters have taught me a lot about the mind and how it works, but not as much as the shrink let me add…
We now have this individual, who through extreme hardship has discovered the new person within themselves that had lain submerged under these piles and piles of day to day life pre-occupation, and this new person is the artist (or the mentally challenged man).  The artist now begins their practice, and as any newly born, they attack it with vigour – when they smile, the world smiles, and when they cry, the world cries too.
Year piles on year, and the manuscripts are now a ceiling high pile in their bedroom.  Let’s also remember that most dedicated artists don’t marry before they become stars in their trade, and so the manuscripts keep on piling, and now in every room of the house.
If they are using a computer, they now have heaps and heaps of back up CD’s and flash drives stacked in some drawer or other.
In the streets they walk tall and proud even if their work has not started selling, because they know they have this enormous wealth in their minds, or on the tip of their fingers if they are guitarists or some other artists who rely on their fingers.
And the years pile on, they are still unmarried, own nothing in the world, not even a spoon, as they are banking their lives on a future big sale. 
Their friends are now all married and have families and own houses, and they are still bachelors or spinsters  and now with uncontrollable tempers when they have had a  drink or two.
Then comes a time when their work is now known around the country and the world, but still they are failing to make that illusive big sale. 
And in cases of countries like Zimbabwe, there are no arts grants or even recognition from government of their work and status of being custodians of national cultures.
And one day they wake up to the fact that, even if they are producing beautiful stories, poems, sculptures, they are poverty stricken, and now it is not that poverty they had at the beginning that made them discover the artist lurking inside them, but it is that poverty that will see to it that when they die in a few years, they are going to receive a paupers burial.
On that note, we would like to urge the public, families, and friends to support the nearest  artist by buying their art work, and not ask for freebies, or limit themselves to gazing at it only.
The amount of work an artist can do an empty stomach is limited.  Maybe when she or he is voluntarily fasting, but not when the ‘cat is now sleeping on the fireplace’ because there is now no cooking fire to chase it away.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Let The Writer Write

This is an old subject, but I think I want to return to it as I have never let my opinion on it get known.
There is a school of thought amongst some writers, readers, and critics that sometimes make me sick when I hear them writing and also articulating that they think writers should stop writing about the wars, the hunger, dictatorships, and all such images they think portray a negative picture of the African continent and the Third World.
Some go on to tell the picture they want to see written about, describing the beautiful natural landscapes and wild life of the continent.  Some have even go far and tried to suggest that why don’t these ‘negative’ writers write romances or thrillers or some such literature that does not touch on the hungers, the wars, the child soldiers, dictators etc.
I have never commented on this opinion like I said whenever I come across it, especially on social networking platforms, mainly because I have always been amazed, and if not disappointed, that there are some people with this train of thought, because, for goodness sake, what constitutes of the very term of literature?
Of course we are aware that people have diverse tastes, just as we would see somebody preferring to go half dressed whilst some hold that as a taboo in their cultures.  But does having diverse tastes warrant a ‘dressing down’ of the other? Is there anybody who can rightly say they are the judges of world literature, and people should always pay homage to their opinions on this matter?
I hope I am not being abstract, as I have often discovered myself confusing myself in some of my writing when I use words that seem to hang in mid air, but my opinion on this matter, which I will stand by through thick and thin, is that let each horse chose from which river it wants to drink from, for who knows, maybe those forbidden waters are the ones that hold healing chemicals.
Literature should heal.  There can be no healing if there is no exposure.  Lack of exposure can lead to a perpetuation of the illness, a suppuration of the wound. Let the political writers write.